Major NHL realignment plan “gaining steam”

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The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman led off last night’s Hotstove segment on Hockey Night in Canada with news that a plan to drastically realign the NHL’s current divisional system was “gaining steam” and that some teams were saying the chances of it happening were “50-50”.

Here’s the proposed plan:

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According to Friedman, each team would play a home-and-home series with the teams outside their division, with the remaining games played within the division. The first two rounds of the playoffs would also be contested within the division, the same as they were back in the days of the 21-team NHL.

The plan has both its supporters and detractors. The Blue Jackets and Red Wings would obviously be happy to play more away games that their fans could watch on TV without staying up past midnight, but Friedman says the Penguins are worried they’ll lose their in-state rivalry with the Flyers with just two games between the sides in the regular season.

For what it’s worth, I like the plan. The more playoff series between division rivals the better. Because while geography plays its part, it’s really the postseason that creates the hatred. Chicago and Vancouver aren’t close to each other, but the Blackhawks and Canucks have one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL at the moment. Three best-of-seven series in three years will do that.

Admittedly, the current system is probably more fair. If four teams from each division are guaranteed to make the playoffs, there are going to be weak teams that qualify for the postseason while stronger teams don’t. The old Norris Division was a joke for much of the 80s, yet it still qualified four teams each year. What’s more, one of those four teams was guaranteed to make the conference finals, when most of the time it was really the Battle of Alberta in the Smythe Division finals that decided who went to the Cup finals.

There’s also the matter of two divisions having eight teams and two having seven. The old Patrick Division had six teams while the other three had five; however, since the Penguins and Devils were both terrible for much of the 80s, the issue of unfairness didn’t come up as much as it could have. But take the 1987-88 season when the Rangers (82 points) and Penguins (81 points) each missed the playoffs while the Hartford Whalers (77 points) nabbed the fourth and final spot in the Adams Division. Think the Rangers and Penguins were happy with that?

Of course, having a bad team make the playoffs isn’t always such a bad thing. In 1981-82, the Los Angeles Kings qualified with 63 points (not enough to make the playoffs in any other division) and knocked off the Edmonton Oilers (111 points) in the first round. Did the Kings deserve the chance to pull off arguably the greatest upset in NHL history? Answer: Who cares? That was an amazing series that nobody will ever forget, particularly Game 3, aka the Miracle on Manchester.

Now, should the proposed plan be implemented, it will be impossible for a team as bad as the 1981-82 Kings to make the playoffs, but it still opens up the possibility for unlikely story lines.

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.